Principles of Reading Instruction

This is a copy of reading principles I developed in 1982. When you take EdSe 4215, it may be interesting for you to see how these reading principles have evolved (as research has further informed me) as well as how my suggested format for the principles (principle/rationale/praxis) has evolved since I first tried to put my thinking about reading and the teaching of reading on paper. You might get some ideas for your principles here, but be warned that I have many better samples for you to see that past students have done.

Principles of Reading & Reading Instruction
Linda Miller Cleary

Preface - I believe that learning takes place through the active involvement of the learner's mind with those skills and concepts and information to be learned. I believe the learner processes, sorts, and classifies concepts, patterns, and information into the mind. The active entry of these things into structures of the mind clarifies, enlarges, and interrelates with those concepts, patterns and information that are already there, innately or due to prior learning. I believe that this interaction between what is to be learned and what has been learned (or what is innate) needs to be long enough and active enough so that the interaction itself forms new organizations of the learned material that are retrievable. This to me is an awe-inspiring process- complex beyond my own imaginings. The process of reading is perhaps one of the most complex things that a child learns. Kenneth Goodman's article and Cooper and Petrosky's article describe the process more to my satisfaction and linguistic bent than any other description that I have come across. It is on the basis of their description of the interaction of the cognitive processes and perceptions that I will develop working principles.

1. There must be active involvement at all times during the learning to read. Learning to read is an inductive, discovery process, and unless the
child's full attention is actively involved, learning won't take place. A lot
of time is required in actual reading. (I wouldn't call it practice because
learning and discovering is taking place whenever a human is reading.) To maintain active involvement the students must see what they are doing as necessary and important, even interesting, and they must derive satisfaction from having done it. Many of the following principles deal with how to make the learning situation conducive to purposeful, enjoyable and active involvement during the "learning to read" process.

2. Those materials used in the learning to read should have great overlap with
the natural language, information and interests that the learner already holds.
Motivation is enhanced by overlap of interests. Overlap of information between
that already cognitively stored in the long term memory and that in the text will allow for the
sampling, predicting, confirming, and correcting strategies to be developed. The materials should be only slightly beyond what is easy for the student to grasp- or frustration and cognitive overload will occur.

3.The best learning of reading takes place in a highly individualized manner, every child putting together the reading processes at different rates, in different orders, using different strategies. A learner forced at a group pace which is beyond him/her can only have feelings of anger, inadequacy and frustration. A reader should be accepted at the level he/she is and given direction to become a better reader. Some students are ready to be pushed or challenged; others need to have time, security, and success at their present skill level to be able to regroup for the next challenge. Because where the reader starts with a teacher is often the consequence of previous learning situations over which that reader had little control, she/he should be rewarded and evaluated for effort and progress, not for his/her ability in relation to others or in relation to a norm.

4. The learning environment should be constructed so that students are led toward self-direction in finding meaning in reading. A student might need to start with strong, clear structure- but this strong teacher direction should only be seen as a starting place for those who need it. For the student to develop life-long reading habits, he/she should be directed towards strategies that will improve technique and then should be encouraged to use techniques to find the meaning for herself/himself. The more input a reader is allowed in choosing materials and processes, the more he/she is starting to take the reins of his/her own learning process. He/she is being trained to continue learning from reading after the teacher is no longer available.

5. Attention to the language system parts (syntax and lexicon) should come A only when a student's own curiosity leads him/her to study those parts. The child will increase vocabulary and smooth out oral and written expression naturally and will be able to use that growth in the process of reading and because of reading. A young child will enjoy language play,but looking at syntax analytically may be more than he/she is able to do consciously. Anything more than learning to name the less complex parts of speech may confound the learning of writing process which is happening at the same time. There is no evidence that grammatical study improves reading.

6. The learning of reading should not be separated from the learning of writing because the two processes are interrelated and can build on each other's strengths. A combination of and interrelation of writing and reading for a child from a young age can allow him/her to understand that meaning is related to letters, words,sentences, paragraphs and books. A child may start with something he/she wants to say and have it transcribed or work to match it up with sounds and letters that he/she has learned. By then learning to read that passage, he/she has come to grips with.the essence of reading- the search for meaning, because that meaning has come from within the child initially. For an adult the process of writing about material he/she has read can allow him/her to sort and recategorize information into an existing or developing conceptual framework. The adult can then construct deeply integrated meaning from what he/she has read.

7. Because the reader needs to take risks in order to grow in his/her ability to read, a supportive yet challenging atmosphere is needed. A threatening atmosphere (including disapproval in slow progress, materials that are beyond the student's grasp, lack of built-in successes, use of other than the reader's natural language, and anything that causes the reader feelings of inadequacy) is what creates non-readers, not their own lack of ability. People may learn to read at different rates, but they will learn unless their is some unusual disability.

8. Until the learner is very comfortable with reading at an adult level, whatever that may be, quantity should be emphasized over, but not to the exclusion of, quality. High quality and quantity should be a priority in a student's school hours and at home. It is the teacher's role to guide the learner to challenging materials; it is the learner who should then choose from appropriate materials.


Students in EdSe 5215 - "Reading in the Secondary School" celebrate the completion of their reading principles at a chilly spring barbecue.